CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As the state Public Service Commission began formal hearings on the case, senior citizens, consumer advocates and clean-energy activists turned out Wednesday to oppose FirstEnergy's effort to transfer ownership of a major coal-fired power plant to its West Virginia subsidiary.
Representatives of AARP joined officials from the Sierra Club, West Virginia-Citizen Action and other groups to question the proposal, which has also drawn strong criticism from PSC staff and the agency's Consumer Advocate Division.
Gary Lynne Shearer, an AARP member from Weston, said that a rate increase FirstEnergy hopes would fund the transaction "paints a bleak picture for West Virginia ratepayers, particularly those who are older and living on fixed incomes across our state."
"The transfer of the Harrison Power Station ... is a costly proposition for more than a half million First Energy ratepayers in the Mountain State," said Richardo Stith of Martinsburg, another AARP member who addressed the commission prior to the official start of the hearing.
Hearings are scheduled to run through at least Friday, and the PSC hearing room in Charleston was initially packed Wednesday morning with lawyers, witnesses and spectators.
PSC Chairman Michael Albert said the commission expects to hear from more than two-dozen witnesses over three days as it tries to sort out the proposed $1.1 billion transaction.
"This is not an easy decision," Albert said. "There are a host of novel and conflicting issues in this case."
Albert said the PSC had received about 1,100 public comments opposing the transaction and roughly 500 in favor of it.
But in lengthy opening remarks, Albert, a former utility company lawyer whose firm represents FirstEnergy, criticized what he said were inaccurate comments submitted to the PSC and reported by the media about the case. Albert did not provide any specific examples.
At issue before the PSC is Akron, Ohio-based FirstEnergy's proposal to transfer to its West Virginia subsidiary, Monongahela Power, the 80 percent of the Harrison Power Station that Mon Power doesn't already own.
The FirstEnergy case is one of two such proposals pending at the PSC.